September 14, 2013
Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13210
Dear Bishop Webb,
I am the pastor of Broad St. United Methodist Church in Norwich, NY. My faith journey has taken me on some unexpected twists and turns throughout my life. My theology and my understanding of social justice have been profoundly shaped by my life experiences.
My experience of disability, in particular, has given me insight and empathy for people who are ostracized, demonized, or ridiculed for who they are and for the way they have been created. For many years, I was taught to believe that my hearing loss was something for which I should feel shame and embarrassment. I was not “whole,” I was told, and I certainly fell short of God’s intention for humans. As a result, I often prayed for healing and that God would deliver me from the “bondage” of my disability.
It was not until I went to seminary at age 44 that I began to understand that my deafness was not something that needed to be healed, but was an important part of who I was created to be. (The incredible book The Disabled God started me on the road to true healing.) Instead of hating my disability (and by extension, myself), I came to embrace both my disability and my life. Rather than seeing my hearing loss as a problem, I saw it as a unique opportunity for personal growth and for ministry. I now feel that God is calling me to reach out to others who have been told that any part of their being – including disability, skin color, ethnicity, or sexual orientation – is wrong or goes against God’s plan or intention.
Two months ago, my middle son Gregory came out (on the day that DOMA fell!) as gay. I can’t describe the pain I feel knowing that my beloved UMC teaches that my son is “incompatible with Christian teaching” because he “practices homosexuality.” Bishop Webb, to say that anyone “practices homosexuality” is as absurd as saying I “practice deafness.” Neither is a choice; rather, both my deafness and my son’s sexual orientation are part of who we are created to be. Only by embracing our created selves can my son and I hope to fulfill God’s intention for our lives.
I pray that as you carry out your episcopal responsibility regarding the charges brought against Rev. Steve Heiss, you will be filled with the grace of the God who created my son, myself, and everything else in all creation, and who longs for all people to experience the shalom of God’s realm – a realm not grounded in who we are, but in how we love.